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What Causes Homelessness in the Okanagan?

This article is written entirely by a UBCO student as part of the school's Economics and the Media course. It has not been fact-checked by KelownaNow.

According to Dr. John Ecker, director of Homeless Hub, there’s a few main sets of issues to frame homelessness.

The first is structural. That’s the inequality, lack of affordable housing, and discrimination based on race, gender, or sex, among other things. With inequality, incomes do not keep up with rent costs, and while rent prices move upwards, people are left behind. Many homeless people whom I talked with had jobs, but simply could not afford rent. Kelowna’s 0.5% vacancy rate makes it even more difficult to find a home.

Landlords facing a choice between renting to someone like an International Student or to someone formerly homeless usually rent to the one seen as more reliable and sustainable. Since homeless people don’t have alternatives, some landlords can get away with discrimination because they know that homeless people don’t have many alternatives in Kelowna.

There is also plenty of discrimination in the market. Ecker showed us proof of discrimination through the fact that while only 5% of Canadians are indigenous, 25% of the homeless population is indigenous. 42% of homeless women are indigenous, whereas only around 3% of Canadians are indigenous.

Not all homelessness looks like the person who lives on the street. There’s invisible homelessness too. Couch-surfing between the homes of different friends is an example of this. While people who do this may not live in emergency shelters, under bridges, or alleyways, they do not have an abode of their own, and are therefore homeless. This is how many people start out, before moving onto the streets.

The third cause of homelessness is systemic. There are failures in the institutions that we have set up which lead to homelessness. In 2016, 15% of the homeless population in Kelowna was under the age of 24. Many of these children come from abusive families, and would rather bear life on the streets than spend it at home. Other belonged to the foster care system, turn 19, and are asked to pack up and leave.

The Ministry of Child and Family Development services do have a cut-off age where they do not allow you to stay in the home anymore. Our institutions do not properly take care of those they help. If the foster care system sets up young people to be homeless, then it sets them up for failure.

No news article will be able to explain all the reasons for why there is homelessness in our community. However, structural and systemic problems definitely contribute to the problem.

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